The World's White Cement

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PCA forecasts moderate consumption growth to 31 December 2021

US: The Portland Cement Association (PCA) has releases a two-year forecast of moderate growth in cement consumption between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021. It projected growth of 1.7% in 2020, slowing slightly to 1.4% in 2021, corresponding to 2.1% and 1.7% GDP growth annually. Speaking at the 38th International Cement Seminar in Atlanta, PCA senior vice president and chief economist Ed Sullivan projected consumption growth of 1.6% – 2.3% in 2019 against GDP growth of 2.4% over the period, with consumption bolstered by the 2018 Federal Budget, which allowed for US$20bn in infrastructure investments in 2018 and 2019. He noted growing uncertainty (21% in 2019) with the expiry of the ‘pent-up demand zip that invigorates the initial stages of economic recovery long past.’

Rising house prices and mild inflation signify the continuation of the US economy’s longest expansion post-World War Two, with 161,000 net new jobs generated so far in 2019. With a forecasted population increase of 60m by 2040, US cement producers appears still have their work cut out in keeping up with demand.

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Dust matters in India

There was a glimmer of good news visible through the Delhi smog this week with the launch of a market-based emissions trading scheme (ETS) for particulate matter (PM). A pilot has started at Surat in Gujarat. The scheme will apply to 350 industries in the locality and it will be scrutinised for wider rollout in the country.

China robustly started to tackle its industrial PM emitters a few years ago although the work remains on-going. In its wake India has increasingly made the wrong sort of headlines with horrifically high dust emissions. Delhi, for example, reportedly had PM2.5 emissions of over 440µg/m3 in January 2019. To give this some context, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) annual upper guideline figure for safe human exposure is 10µg/m3. Research by the Financial Times newspaper suggested that more than 40% of the Indian population is subject to annual PM2.5 emissions of over 50µg/m3.

Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) research reckons that if India were able to meet its national PM2.5 standard of 40µg/m3 then its population would live 1.8 years longer or 4.3 years longer if it met the WHO guideline level. The current situation is an unnecessary tragedy. In strictly structural terms the country’s productivity is being thrown away by damaging the health of its workforce. For comparison amongst other major cement producing countries, AQLI data placed China’s PM2.5 emissions at 39µg/m3, Indonesia at 22µg/m3, Vietnam at 20µg/m3 the US at 9µg/m3. These figures cover all industries in different conditions and climates. If the US can do it, why not the others?

Back on trading schemes, the famous ETS at the moment is the European one for CO2 emissions. Similar schemes are slowly appearing around the world as governments look at what the European Union (EU) did right and wrong. For example, South Africa started up a carbon tax in early June 2019. Yet as the supporting documents by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) point out there have been a variety of ETS systems’ over the years. The US’s Acid Rain Program is generally seen to have achieved significant reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions although the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) has continued this work. Chile even ran its own PM ETS in the 1990s although the outcomes have been disputed.

One problem with a CO2 ETS, and anthropomorphic or man-made climate change in general, is that it is intangible. Even if sea levels deluge major coastal cities, rising mean temperatures reduce agricultural yields and human populations contract sharply, people will still be arguing over the research and the causes. The beauty of a PM ETS is that if it works you can literally see and feel the results. A famous example here is the UK’s Clean Air Act in the 1950s that banished the fog/smog that London used to be famous for.